Psychological Safety

Many companies begin each meeting with a Safety Share to highlight safety risks in the environment. As a facilitator, I am equally concerned about ensuring the psychological safety of participants. Psychologically safe participants feel accepted and respected, and are willing to take risks.

I have learned not to underestimate the anxiety created in high-risk meetings. Will I be ridiculed or ostracized for my opinions? Will I come across as competent? Will people turn a blind eye to bullying and harassment that has become commonplace under the guise of humor? Will there be retribution later? For these and other reasons, I am committed to creating a psychologically safe environment.

Psychological safety starts with my contact with participants in advance of a facilitated session. In my one-on-one interviews, I ensure people know what they share with me is in confidence. Interviews help me prepare for the group dynamics and I coach each person to raise issues to the degree they feel comfortable.

To create a safe and productive environment at the start of sessions, I propose groundrules or rules of engagement such as:

  • Every person participates. No one person dominates.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person.
  • Respect each other’s views.
  • One person speaks at a time.
  • It’s okay to disagree but not to be disagreeable.
  • Peel the onion – go beyond superficial comments.
  • What’s said in this room, stays in this room (like Vegas).

I set the expectation that we all share responsibility for the quality of the dialogue and results of the session.

I use processes to “discuss the undiscussables” in a safe and respectful way. Depending on the dynamics, I might:

  • Post a summary of the themes I heard in the interviews.
  • Use “eyes closed” voting and then display the results to get the reality in the room visible to all.
  • Use a talking stick to ensure each person has an opportunity to be heard in their own way and at their own pace.
  • Call a pause after an emotional moment to enable people to reflect, recover and recommit.
  • Intervene to balance the power dynamics.

I am mindful of the wellbeing of the group and each individual. I have found the guidelines for the guardian’s role in the Circle Way by PeerSpirit very helpful.

Psychological safety is about driving out fear and enabling all parties to have the discussions they need to have in a productive manner. Work safely, my friends.

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